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Peterborough

Music as message, Sign and symbol

Monadnock Lyceum: Dr. Bill Banfield on “The Crisis of Music Culture Today: What Are the Songs We Need to Hear?”

The Unitarian Church in Peterborough was filled with music and movement when Dr. Bill Banfield visited on Sunday. The Berklee College of Music professor and director of the school’s Africana Studies program, as well as award-winning composer, was the fifth guest speaker in this season’s Monadnock Summer Lyceum series.

In his talk “The Crisis of Music Culture Today: What Are the Songs We Need to Hear?,” Banfield encouraged his audience to view music as more than just entertainment. American culture and history has produced a deep tradition through numerous expressions, but most notably music.

“Culture is the manifestations of signs, symbols and music,” Banfield said. “It is anything that represents the thinking and state of people at a certain period of time.”

Music provides insight into the cultures and time periods of which it was composed. Banfield believes that music is an artifact and the listener must approach it like an archaeologist, in order to uncover the treasure of the message.

He discussed various genres as examples, such as 1960s soul music, which was employed as a form of cohesion in the Civil Rights Movement. In more recent time periods, grunge and hip hop have conveyed complaints and tragedies about the world, and provided keys on how to change it.

Banfield sprinkled in music clips throughout the lecture, to demonstrate his ideas and engage the audience.

When we analyze music as a piece of history, he observed, we can learn from the culture and human expression it presents. By doing so, he believes that music can help change the world because learning from the past will prevent history from repeating itself.

“You can’t know where you’re going, unless you know where you are and where you came from,” Banfield said.

He also touched upon some problems facing today’s music, such as fragmentation of the media and the influence of financially motivated corporations.

Television shows, such as “American Idol,” place the focus on who is the best singer of a preselected group of individuals. But Banfield sees the true beauty of every contestant because of what brought them to the show in the first place. The musician should not be carried away by a prize or pay day, but by the significance of the art they create, he said.

Charles Burchell, Banfield’s bandmate, mentioned another issue: that companies, such as Pandora, use the musician’s work to rake in millions, while the artist is left with a slim cut. He said the solution to taking back honest music is simply to support independent artists.

Following the lecture, Banfield and his musical group, The Jazz Urbane, performed. Band members of various backgrounds include vocalist Annette Philip, Jonathan Singleton on keyboard and piano, Lenny Stallworth on bass, Carlos Averhoff on saxophone, Burchell on drums and Banfield on guitar.

The group takes on a genre of its own as a collaboration of jazz, urban sound, blues and hip hop, symbol of the cultural significance Banfield believes music should represent. Their music is an expression of all the ideas, focus and energy that the group members hold.

Jazz Urbane played samples from its album, “Playing With Other People’s Heads.” Averhoff’s saxophone added a jazzy aspect, Phillips’ singing implemented a touch of soul and hip hop, and Dr. Banfield’s guitar incorporated some rock and roll.

The Monadnock Summer Lyceum’s next speaker is University of Vermont biology professor, Dr. Bernd Heinrich, who will speak about “Nature: A Panacea to Our Problems?” on Aug. 3.

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